Neither your place nor mine

That’s Lough Neagh – perhaps the most recognisable geographic feature on our map. There are a number of issues arising from this report by the BBC on the ownership of Lough Neagh – news that, in itself, may come as a shock to many. The owner Lord Shaftesbury, whose body was found in the Alps earlier this month after he went missing – he is believed to have been murdered – in November last year, seems to have had a very public-spirited approach to the extraction of water from the lough, 40% of our drinking water supply comes from Lough Neagh, and he is reported to have offered the rights to the lough to the government only for the offer to be declined. But there is no guarantee that the next owner will be as generous.The main point in all this, though, is that the potential problem of the government, i.e. the public, being charged for the use of the water was identified in 2003 by the NI Water Council. The BBC reports that the Water Council recommended that the lough be purchased on behalf of the public then, only for the various Departments concerned to ignore the warnings –

Indeed, just days after the Water Council sounded its warning in 2003, the Department of Agriculture played the matter down, saying “we have no evidence that a change of ownership is imminent”.

But now, with the discovery of the earl’s body in France and the circumstances that surround his death, the possibility that the lough could go on the open market increases.

The DoE have admitted to the BBC that although they were advised by the Water Council in October 2003 to buy the lough, they have still made no approach to the earl or his estate 18 months later.[my emphasis]

At the minute who will be the new owner isn’t clear, nor whether they will force the issue of cahrging for the rights to the lough, but it should be evident that it is only a matter of time until that does happen – and then we will know how much we will have to pay for the incompetence of those responsible for ignoring the Water Council’s advice…. Not to mention the failure of all of the public representatives around at the time to even notice.